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updated: 6/4/2013 3:35 PM

Eat right, live well: Cherries brighten summer menus

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  • Fresh cherries brighten up a summer salad.

      Fresh cherries brighten up a summer salad.
    Courtesy of Northwest Cherry Growers

 

There are many delicious reasons to celebrate June: Father's Day, Men's Health Week, the first day of summer and National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month. June is also the time of year when fresh sweet cherries come into season.

Not only can cherries brighten your plate or bowl but they also boast some great nutrition benefits including the potential to lower inflammation.

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Here's what you need to know to work these healthful fruits into your summer menus:

Selection and storage: Choose cherries that are shiny and plump with fresh green stems. Cherries keep best when stored unwashed with stems attached, in a loosely closed paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator. They can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days or washed, pitted, and stored in the freezer.

When your ready to use or eat, pluck off stems, wash and carefully remove pit with a paring knife or a hand-held/mechanical cherry pitter.

Nutrition: Both sweet and tart cherries are good sources of fiber, potassium and vitamin C. Cherries also contain a wealth of plant chemicals that help fight off chronic disease.

But, are all cherries the same? No. Health benefits differ among the tart and sweet varieties as well as between juiced, dried, canned, fresh and frozen. The antioxidant level in cherry juice and dried cherries (both unsweetened and sweetened) are similar to fresh cherries. Antioxidants in frozen cherries is somewhat lower and the antioxidant content of canned cherries decreases further but still remains significant.

Sweet cherries contain vitamin C, anthocyanins and antioxidants. Plus, they are among the few foods that contain melatonin, an antioxidant that fights insomnia and jet lag. Both sweet and tart cherries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and they also contain potassium. Yet tart cherries (but not sweet cherries or tart cherry juice) also are an excellent source of vitamin A. In fact, tart cherries contain 25 percent of the daily value of vitamin A.

Antioxidants stop damage to our cells just like a drizzle of lemon juice on sliced apple prevents browning. Studies have shown a link between antioxidants in cherries reducing inflammation, cholesterol, belly fat, pain relief in joints and post-exercise muscle pain. Studies also show that cherries play a role in bone building, heart health and fresh breath.

Studies that associate cherry consumption with lower levels of uric acid are not conclusive about the potential effect on gout signs and symptoms.

Unfortunately there currently are no guidelines on how many cherries we should consume to reap all the benefits identified in research. Nutrition and science experts suggest one to two servings of cherries daily may provide some of the health benefits.

Here's a nutritional breakdowns:

cup dried cherries: 280 calories, 72 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber

1 cup fresh cherries: 74 calories, 19 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber

1 cup frozen: 110 calories, 25 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber

1 cup cherry juice: 132 calories, 34 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber

2 tablespoons juice concentrate: 110 calories, 26 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber

Even though cherries can be part of a healthy diet, people with diabetes or high triglyceride levels should be cautious when drinking cherry juice. Cherry juice contains a high amount of simple carbohydrates, so check with a registered dietitian before including it in your meal plan.

Summer is a perfect time to add cherries to your bowl of cereal, yogurt parfait or stack of pancakes. Cherries also make a great addition to side dishes such as quinoa, couscous and wild rice. You also can use cherries in place of berries and other fruits in baked goods.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, works for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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